How to combat an OBX ‘Great Depression’

By on March 26, 2020

By Craig Merrill

Quick government decisions to modify social behavior have created a bulwark that should serve to keep the COVID-19 infection rate manageable in the Outer Banks. Separate relief efforts are underway to provide some measure of support for those most severely impacted by the damaging, but necessary, consequences of these changes. However, we now need to alter course and begin planning for a new future.

The social policies that will save us from the pandemic will also cause a severe economic crisis. Once we make it through this wave of infection, the models predict a possible second wave; thus, many of these policies will need to remain in effect until the end of the year.

Even in a best-case scenario, the Outer Banks will not have a spring-summer tourist season—a loss of two-thirds of our visitors and a 30 percent drop in peak employment. Assuming things return to “normal” by the end of the year, the tourist industry will not.

Our regular visitors will have suffered significant losses of their own, and few will be willing and able to visit. This suggests the Outer Banks is on track for a financial contraction lasting 18 to 24 months. Due to our economic reliance on tourism, the economic impact here will likely be more severe than the rest of the state and most of the U.S. These numbers suggest our region will experience the equivalent of the Great Depression.

The impulse of local leaders to continue responding to the immediate crisis is understandable, and some must continue to do so. However, focusing all their attention on this will lead to economic and social ruin for northeast North Carolina.

Instead, our elected officials need to begin shaping the region’s future in addition to addressing the immediate crisis. They need to aggressively pursue funding to create programs that will fill-in for the missing tourist industry and establish public-private partnerships to upgrade county infrastructure so that the region perseveres in the face of future crises.

Officials must be willing to go into debt to invest in our schools, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as introducing new technologies and capabilities that will strengthen our healthcare system and make the region more resilient to crises of all kinds – both now and well into our future.

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful region that has become a vacation destination for hundreds of thousands of people each year. But, as we are now learning, it can be a curse when fortunes turn bad.

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to continue to cause physical, mental, and financial anguish across the globe, and leaders in every region of the world will have to decide how best to respond. Good leaders know that we cannot succeed if we don’t focus our eyes on the horizon. We have good leadership in northeast North Carolina, and this missive is a gentle reminder for them to lift their gazes. We must plan and act now to ensure it is the best possible future.

Craig Merrill is a research engineer and a retired Naval officer who resides in Kitty Hawk

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  • Dylan

    As gloomy as this sounds it is not unreasonable. A very real possibility of a disaster here exists if tourists are allowed to come here too soon and the virus is allowed to propagate. At the same time, the economy depends on tourism. Unfortunately, we must have an economic crisis to solve a health crisis.

    Stay safe, stay home, step up.

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 2:02 pm
  • Stan Clough

    Wow, I find this “opinion” very odd. So, no summer here, really ? Sounds dangerous for normal citizens, just stop working and let the government take care of us ?
    There is more here than appears to , beware…

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 3:07 pm
  • Lol

    Good! All you OBX “locals” deserve what’s coming to you…since you don’t like outsiders, you all can go out of business and go to hell, hahaha!!!

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 3:24 pm
  • Shaun

    I was reading the venomous comments aimed at “out of towners” in a Facebook post from the Voice. It wasn’t too disturbing. Both of our northeastern counties go through occasssional phases of cursing the outsiders. But I resisted the urge to comment that many, many, this summer will need to ask for deposits back and skip their vacations. The upside though is that the haters can have the whole OBX to themselves.

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 10:07 pm
  • Anonymous NRPO

    It could be better than you predict if you weren’t also discriminating against the non-resident property owners who you have now alienated . We have always supported local businesses during disasters but to see the dripping hatred for us in light of this pandemic is truly eye opening. You’ve have turned away one of the most supportive groups of people that had. Visitors come and go but we own here because we love it as much as you do and hopes to retire here later. Many have changed that view in recent days given the war raged on them.

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 11:28 pm
  • Lee

    Simple, let visitors in but need to keep the Coronavirus social distancing rules apply.

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 9:10 am
  • Teddy Anderson

    Interesting how the NRPO are being treated. I can’t say that I blame them for the “screw you” attitude after the way you year round residents are treating them. I know after vacationing and spending tens of thousands of dollars in OBX businesses I will think twice about coming back. There are plenty of places that are great vacation spots. The OBX have lost most of their charm. This is to be expected when people who consider themselves local decide they are priviledged and deserve special treatment.

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 10:53 am
  • Chris Smith

    OK so when we let you in In a virus runs rampant on our beaches who’ Going to cook for you at the restaurants who is going to take care you at the hotel Who is gonna run the Mini golf the go karts arcades Who’s gonna run the rental companies Who’s gonna do maintenance on the houses in the rental companies who’s going to clean your pool’s who’s gonna take you off shore or inshore fishing Who’s gonna make renovations to your homes or build your new homes The virus can spread down here in a blink of an eye it would decimate this beach Every area has its own unique problems So think before you speak

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 12:34 pm
  • Bob

    Quint from Jaws, “But you gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter.”

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 2:19 pm
  • Basskat


    Amen, I was to come down today through the weekend. If waiting for the elevator it’s crowded, take the stairs. Dare devils pizza in the room and I am sure somewhere on the South Beaches I would have been quarter mile from anyone. In all, Holiday Inn Express got revenue, there was a meal tax and gas. Just saying.

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 5:21 pm
  • CLL loves OBX

    So this makes it clear that everyone loses because of the CV. Property owners who rent homes weekly lose. Permanent residents lose. Visitors/vacationers lose. Please stop spewing hate in every direction because I truly believe we will return to “normal.” Maybe a new normal but let’s look forward to that.

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 8:43 pm
  • Michael Winters

    The Dare County mandate to prevent non-resident property owners from their homes just made CNN. You know who was not mentioned, beach counties from NJ, NY, VA, MD, DE, RI, CT, etc. Dare County, you are shooting yourselves in the foot over and over. Keeping people from their homes will not bode well when this is over and people are looking for a place to invest and park their money. They will remember how non-resident property owners were treated and will look elsewhere. What the rest of the country knows and what Dare county has failed to comprehend, is that non-resident property owners can socially isolate and quarantine themselves in their homes in the OBX or in any home they reside. Dare County has now become “the county” that discriminates and keeps owners from their homes. #SpreadKindnessInstead

    Friday, Mar 27 @ 9:48 pm
  • A Local

    It’s disheartening to read some of the comments here. I applaud Dare County for wanting to keep area residents safe. Before anyone spews hate, remember a few things:

    We have an 18 bed hospital, population count shows 57,755. Even if 5% were to get sick – our hospital would be immediately overwhelmed. They would send anyone they couldn’t treat up to Norfolk. What if Norfolk’s hospital is overcroweded. Okay you get the picture.

    For local economics – I remember when Currituck County Commissioners turned away certain businesses on the mainland – the military airfield for one. This would have provided year round money to the area – through civilian jobs and local spending – once our area recovered from the pandemic. But Currituck is fixated on tourism, it’s a flaw I have always seen. Instead of helping farmers and keeping production alive, there’s been a steady slew of farms for sale, some have been purchased for housing development projects.

    I thought it would take a Cat 4 or 5 Hurricane to put us where we are right now. This would mean major clean up for at least a year, followed by a lot of construction. It would also mean no rentals, no food places poping up – everyone would need to rebuild. I look at this scenario through the eyes of former emergency response training and experience.

    People are so blinded to their own wants they can’t see the big picture. They can’t see the comparissons to the Spanish Flu of 1918 because some still think it will all go away and it’s just a minor cold. In the coming weeks and months beyond, all of us will know someone that succumbs to the virus. We will hear of hero stories and we will here of selfish acts that once again continue to infect their communities.

    40 doctors in Italy have died and over 6,000 medical personnel (nurses and doctors) have the virus in Italy. Surely people would understand we are a nation in crisis mode, you would think we would all come together wanting to help our first responders, the staff in hospitals, we would want to help our neighbors and communities. Some of you will continue to spew hate, you will find a reason to blame government and to blame others.

    I am reminded of human nature – we will see everyone’s true colors, they will shine through – beautiful and ugly.

    Saturday, Mar 28 @ 6:47 am
  • Chris

    Good for you OBX. Your not as cool as you think you are. These restrictions on NRPO are ridiculous. Next your going to raise taxes on the NRPO’s that can’t even get to their houses. I think there should be a tax return. You get what you deserve.

    Saturday, Mar 28 @ 6:50 am
  • Dylan

    It obviously has not occurred to many of you that the restricted access now just may help save the summer tourist season. After all it is only March, way too early to making hollow threats and condemning us locals.

    Step up, stay home, and stay safe. And join the human race.

    Saturday, Mar 28 @ 7:57 am
  • Brian D Smith

    Well…..I’m constituting a policy that no Dare County residents can come to little beach on the Chesapeake bay, want to keep outsiders out and insiders safe…I’m sure you will understand. Another, won’t spend another dollar in OBX

    Saturday, Mar 28 @ 9:53 pm
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